Signs of dehydration in kids

Jun 30, 2010 at 12:31 p.m. ET

Do you know the signs and symptoms that your child is dehydrated? With summer here, dehydration is an important topic that every parent should be aware of. The body loses water through tears, sweat and more and in the summer that water loss can become more acute. Get tips on keeping your child hydrated and healthy.

Sweaty boy drinking water

In the summertime, the hot weather can rob bodies of their fluids, so it's important that kids drink -- and drink often. "Water is an important part of everyday life. It makes up two-thirds of the body's weight and about 75 percent of the brain's weight. Our bodies need water to transport nutrients and oxygen to all cells in the body, to regulate body temperature, and to lubricate joints," says Joanna Dolgoff, M.D., a pediatrician, child and adolescent obesity specialist, and author of Red Light, Green Light, Eat Right.

In order to ensure that kids stay hydrated, parents need to be proactive, experts say. You just can't wait until a child (or you!) complain about thirst. "Unfortunately many parents and coaches rely on lack of being thirsty as a good indicator of hydration status, however the thirst drive does not become active until you are already dehydrated. To compound this, thirst drive is typically weaker in children and as such, they are more susceptible to becoming dehydrated," says Claire Bowes, Director of Physical Training, CSCS, at Simply Performance Group Inc.

Know the signs of dehydration

You don't want your kids to ever be dehydrated. No one does. But it's still very important that you know how to recognize the signs in your kids so that you can be prepared for the possibility.

"A child who has normal energy, watery tears when crying, moist mouth, and is urinating every four hours is not dehydrated. Signs of mild dehydration include dry mouth, chapped lips, dry tears, increased thirst, less frequent urination and a dry diaper. As it progresses, signs of severe dehydration include weight loss, sunken eyes, fast heart rate, parched mouth, cold extremities, listlessness and lack of alertness," says Dr. Lauren Feder, a nationally recognized, Los Angeles-based physician who specializes in standard and holistic medicine.

What happens if you see signs of severe dehydration? Get help. "This requires immediate medical attention," says Feder.

What to sip on

You've probably heard that you need 8-10 cups of water daily, but what should you and your kids be drinking? Water is best, but other drinks can help keep your body hydrated as well.

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Water is the best replacement drink. Sports drinks are beneficial only for children participating in intense exercise for more than 90 minutes.

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"The Centre for International Child Health Institute instructs families worldwide about simple home uses for rehydration. Traditionally, breastmilk, orange juice (1/2 cup), rice water, carrot soup, and diluted cooked cereal and water (gruel) can prevent a child from becoming dehydrated," says Feder.

What about those sports drinks? Although they are popular, the sugar-laden drinks aren't right for everyone since they are high in calories and simple sugars. However if your child participates in lengthy sporting activities, then they could be a good choice.

"Electrolytes, which are used to regulate where and how fluids are distributed in the body, may be lost after more than 90 minutes of intense exercise. Electolytes can be replenished by drinking a sports drinks. Water however is just as good at adding back the fluids lost during exercise and keeping electrolytes in balance," says Dolgoff.

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